Mark Steven Phillips gets a five-year sentence for his role in a 1970s drug-smuggling operation
Mark Steven Phillips, son of the founder of sportfisherman builder Striker Aluminum Yachts, was sentenced to five years in prison June 15 by the federal judge who presided over his drug-smuggling trial more than three decades ago. Prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for the fugitive, who had been on the run since 1979.
Phillips, 62, was a salesman at the Fort Lauderdale boat company, according to Thomas de Groot, who designed the Striker line and took over the company in 1983. Phillips was employed at the business when he met with gang members and provided boats for the smuggling operation, federal officials say.
U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King in Miami ordered Phillips to serve the prison sentence, followed by two years of special parole, for his role in the so-called “Black Tuna Gang.” The group imported into the United States as much as 500 tons of marijuana and cocaine worth an estimated $300 million when they were active in the 1970s, according to prosecutors.
Court documents show that the other defendants in the case were given much lengthier sentences at federal trials after their arrests in 1979. Robert Meinster was sentenced to 53 years in prison; Robert Platshorn was sentenced to 64 years; Eugene Myers was sentenced to 33 years (later reduced to 28 years); Carl London was sentenced to 31 years; Richard Grant was sentenced to 13 years (later reduced to seven); and Randall Fisher was sentenced to nine years.
The court held Phillips responsible for smuggling about 71,000 pounds of marijuana in 1977 aboard his boats, which were named Presidential and Osprey. The U.S. Marshals Cold Case Squad caught up with Phillips Jan. 27 at an apartment near West Palm Beach, Fla. He had disappeared seven weeks into his 1979 drug-smuggling trial in Miami while free on $25,000 bond, federal agents say.
Before the Miami trial, he was sentenced to five years in prison in a related drug-smuggling case in North Carolina. The yet-to-be-served North Carolina sentence will run concurrently with the sentence handed down in June in Florida, according to press reports. While on the run, Phillips was found guilty of seven counts of racketeering and drug smuggling.
Prosecutors say Phillips moved to Chile and established a nice life for himself. The divorced father of two remarried, had a son and started a lucrative business importing and exporting seafood, according to prosecutors. He used an alias to obtain a German passport and traveled to the United States, flying into the country from Chile, London and Vancouver.
Documents submitted at his trial include a letter from Phillips’ ex-wife, Barbara Madigan, in which she notes Phillips’ bipolar disorder and the “extreme highs to extreme lows” in his personality. “In 1979, he drove his car at high speed into a concrete utility pole in an effort to kill himself,” she wrote in a letter to the court. “He told me at the hospital that ‘next time I will be successful.’ ”
Madigan wrote to the court that Phillips was “intelligent and capable,” but had his future “derailed by a mental illness that led him down a destructive path devoid of happiness and family.”
Phillips’ younger brother, Richard, also submitted a letter to the judge that echoes the observation of mental illness. “I know that from talking with him over the few months he was here in Florida before being arrested, he is very remorseful and was really looking for the chance to turn his life around and make amends,” his brother says in the letter he submitted to the court. His sister, Pam Miller, also notes the “depression” she saw in her brother after the birth of his first son, who suffered from meningitis and, subsequently, cerebral palsy.
Phillips’ father, Herb, founded Striker Yacht Corp. in New York in 1951. The World War II veteran served aboard a steel Liberty ship and was impressed with its ability to handle heavy seas. He initially built sportfishing boats of steel before transitioning to aluminum.
Striker built sturdy yachts to 130 feet in the United States, Holland, Norway and Chile. The last recreational boat, a 70-foot sportfisherman, was launched in 1995; the last Striker boat, a 46-foot commercial pilot boat, came off the line in 1997. Herb Phillips died in 2009 at the age of 86.
Associate editor Beth Rosenberg contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.